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New Jersey Scuba Diving

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New Jersey Scuba Diving

Sharks - Offshore

Fishes

Here is an assortment of large sharks that can be found in New Jersey waters, by no means all of them. These are more likely to be found offshore in oceanic waters. Sharks are seldom a danger to divers, they seem to be put off by the noise and bubbles. None the less, all should be treated with caution.

Realistically, sharks in our waters are not a great concern. In over 350 northeast ocean dives, I have seen sharks on only several occasions ( not counting harmless little Dogfishes ) and only once while in the water. That one was in the Mud Hole, on the Arundo, to be precise. It was a Blue, or possibly a Mako, and wanted nothing to do with me, which was a relief, since I had half an hour of deco left to do at the time !

Note the difference between the toothless Basking Shark at left
and the very not toothless Great White Shark at right.

If you think about it, humans must taste terrible to sharks, and scuba divers especially - with rubber suits and big metal tanks. Many shark attacks occur in murky water where the shark is not sure what it is attacking. Some attacks have been the result of the shark being stepped on in shallow water. Most shark attacks on humans are abortive, the shark taking only one exploratory bite, then realizing its mistake and breaking off the attack. Unfortunately, with a large shark, one bite and you're dead. Many predators, from bears to tigers, will prey on humans when sickness, injury, or old age make them unable to catch their normal prey. Sharks are probably no different.

This page has many spectacular photographs of sharks. That is because people are fascinated by these sleek and deadly predators, and there are many many great pictures on the internet to choose from. But don't be alarmed - your likelihood of encountering a dangerous shark in New Jersey waters while diving is near nil. If you note the water clarity in most of these pictures, you will realize that they were not taken anywhere near here !

See Restrictions and Health Advisories for catch limits on various species of sharks.


Blue Shark

Sharks - Offshore

Prionace glauca

Size:
to 11 ft,
reportedly to 21ft

Habitat:
open ocean

Notes:
dangerous

A fast-swimming oceanic shark, these are colored vivid blue in life, but quickly fade to gray in death. The Blue shark is described as a persistent and dangerous stalker, and is often found in great numbers. This is the shark most likely seen in caged shark dives off Rhode Island, and is probably the commonest shark in our offshore waters during the summer months. Other identifying features of the Blue shark are the extremely long pectoral fins and relatively slim body ( compared to those below ) with very unequal upper and lower tail lobes.



A large Blue Shark off Rhode Island


Note the vivid blue coloration, with lighter undersides.


The long lean lines of a Blue shark. This one has just been tagged.

Blue Shark - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Blue Shark - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving
A Blue Shark pesters a remote video camera ( NEFSC )
( You may notice that it has a fishing leader trailing from its mouth. )

Blue Shark - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Blue Shark - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving
Blue Shark feeding on herring ( NEFSC )


download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine


Basking Shark

Sharks - Offshore

Cetorhinus maximus

Size:
to 45 ft

Habitat:
open ocean

Notes:
harmless

The Basking Shark is second in size only to the Whale Shark, and much more likely to be spotted in our cool northern waters. Like the Whale Shark, the Basking Shark is a harmless plankton feeder. While the Whale Shark has a brown and cream checkerboard pattern on its back, the Basking Shark is more uniformly gray, making identification easy. It also differs in profile: while the Whale Shark has a broad square snout, the Basking Shark has a pointed conical snout, much like its cousin the Great White, for which it may be mistaken.

Basking Sharks are common off Massachusetts and northward, and not uncommon off New Jersey and Long Island, where they swim lazily at the surface ( hence the name ) and are probably responsible for most reports of monster Great Whites. A 20 foot Basking Shark would be of small-to-average size, while a 20 foot White Shark would be of unheard-of proportions.


Note the overall gray coloration and tiny eyes.


Also note the huge toothless gape.


Basking Shark seen from above - note the long gill slits which curve
around the top of the head, and the narrow bulbous snout.


This is another harmless Basking Shark. I wouldn't get in the water with it anyway.

As you can see, a Basking Shark really doesn't look or act much like a Great White, so all you South Jersey divers can stop scaring yourselves silly whenever you run across one. But then, what newspaper is going to print a story like "Divers Encounter Harmless Basking Shark" ? I suppose a little embellishment is necessary to get your name in the news.


One more time ... repeat after me: This is not a Great White.


download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine


Great White Shark

Sharks - Offshore

Carcharodon carcharias

Size:
to 26 ft, but more likely 12-16 ft

Habitat:
open ocean

Notes:
incredibly dangerous

Great Whites are not terribly fond of cold water and are more likely to be found further south, although they do appear regularly in Long Island Sound. They are typically pelagic, but have been known to come close inshore and even into creeks and rivers on rare occasions.

The largest reported local sighting of a White Shark that I can recall was a 14 footer in Long Island Sound many years ago, and I doubt that they get any bigger than that around here. Any really large shark sighted in the bight is more likely a Basking Shark. The NJ state fishing record for a White Shark is 759 lbs - smaller than the record Mako. The record New York White Shark is 3450 lbs ( 1986, out of Montauk. ) Great White sharks are now strictly protected by law.


Note the stark white belly and the distinct margin between white and gray.


This is what a real Great White Shark might look like
to a South Jersey diver on a deco hang ...


A Great White, seen from the surface. Compare with Basking Shark.


There just are so many incredible pictures of this beast. The breaching
behavior seen here is far more common than was once thought.


A young Great White swims in captivity at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
It was eventually released because it was attacking its tank-mates.

Great White Shark - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Great White Shark - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving
Promotional video for Shark Shield electronic shark repeller
It seems to be pretty effective


download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine


Shortfin Mako Shark

Sharks - Offshore

Isurus oxyrinchus

Size:
to 12 ft

Habitat:
open ocean, coastal

Notes: dangerous

Smaller cousin of the Great White, Mako sharks are renowned for their speed, and their powerful and aerobatic fight when hooked. They are also thought by some researchers to possess greater intelligence than other species. As a result of overexploitation by long-liners and sport fishermen, the local population has collapsed, and large trophy-sized individuals have not been caught off New Jersey for many years, although small ones are still common.

Shortfin Mako Sharks are generally considered to be excellent table fare. Not so for Longfin Makos, which are found in the deep ocean, out beyond the Gulf Stream.


The Mako has a snow white belly much like its larger cousin the Great White.


Large Makos are said to be capable of leaping more than 20 feet out of the water.


A hooked Mako near the surface, showing the distinct white patch around the mouth.

Shortfin Mako Shark - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Shortfin Mako Shark - Marine Biology - New Jersey Scuba Diving
Promotional video for Shark Shield electronic shark repeller
It seems to be pretty effective


download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine


Porbeagle

Sharks - Offshore

Lamna nasus

Size:
to 12 ft

Habitat:
open ocean

Notes:
dangerous

Porbeagles are fast-swimming active sharks. They are warm-blooded like their bigger cousins Great Whites and Makos. This makes them more tolerant of cold water than many other types. They are sought by fishermen both for sport and for food. The white patch at the base of the dorsal fin is unique to this shark.

Right: Porbeagle steaks


Note the stout, stocky body form of this boated Porbeagle.
With the tail folded over, it looks almost like a porpoise.


A rather fanciful illustration of a Porbeagle from
Edward Donovan's Natural History of British Fishes 1802-1808.


download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine


Thresher Shark

Sharks - Offshore

Alopias vulpinus

Size:
to 20 ft including tail

Habitat:
open ocean, both coastal and over very deep water, also in the Mud Hole

Notes:
not especially dangerous

This shark feeds mainly upon small fishes which it stuns with its long tail. It has relatively weak jaws and small teeth for its size, and is generally not considered a threat to man unless provoked. Thresher Sharks are capable of great bursts of speed, and also commonly leap completely out of the water, for reasons unknown. The Thresher is a favorite of shark fishermen, and is very good eating if cleaned and prepared properly. It is also a common bycatch of long-line commercial fishing. The Bigeye Thresher shark is even more bizarre ( it's purple ! )


Thresher shark in the Philippines. Note the large eyes and small mouth.


The tail is unmistakable


Threshers are known to jump completely clear of the water, like this one in Maine.


download: Fishes of the Gulf of Maine


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Disclaimer:

I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted

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